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NEW YORK – Sergio Santos got that audience with Mariano Rivera he was hoping for and it was everything he expected and more.
The White Sox’s new closer, albeit unofficially, came to New York with the hope of picking Rivera’s brain. He had never met the future Hall of Famer but had a couple of ideas on how to get a conversation started, including going to Freddy Garcia, now with the Yankees, to facilitate a meeting.
Santos decided to take matters into his own hands Wednesday when he approached Rivera while the Yankees were taking batting practice.
“I said, ‘Hey, if you don’t mind, I’d love to ask you a few questions?’” Santos said. “At first I was thinking, ‘Man, this is Mariano Rivera.’ He started off with a question to me which kind of threw me off. My question was, ‘Hey, what’s your approach when you go out there?’ He goes, ‘Well, let me ask you a question. When you’re heading out to the mound from the bullpen, what are you thinking about?’”
Santos didn’t want to reveal too much, but he did say that Rivera approved of his answer. They talked about preparation, pitching without your best stuff and how to handle adversity.
Rivera learned about Santos’ background as an infielder turned pitcher in 2009 through White Sox bullpen coach Juan Nieves, who was a former minor-league coach in the Yankees organization.
“He told me that it was impressive to, I guess, be able to convert so quickly and have somewhat success,” Santos said. “I’ll tell you what, when I was done talking to him I literally went over that conversation in my head 100 times just so I wouldn’t forget it.”
Not that Santos wanted the Yankees to be leading in the ninth inning Wednesday, but getting a chance to see Rivera close out a game immediately after learning some of his secrets helped to visualize the advice.
“He has the mindset that I’m going to give you what I’ve learned over these 20 years and I hope you have a successful career as I’ve had,” Santos said. “That’s actually refreshing and nice to have the opportunity to do that.”
Major League Baseball has an anti-fraternization rule, of course, so that fans aren’t given the impression that the competitive nature of the game is being compromised, but Santos felt that the chance to talk to Rivera was worth the risk of a slap on the hand. Besides, the gates to the ballpark weren’t even open when their conversation began.
“My whole thing is: What do I have to lose? If I ask him if I can get advice and he says no, I’m right back to where I am,” Santos said. “But from what I heard he was really a good guy and that confirmed it. I just hope that if I have half the career he has and had and if somebody else ask me questions I would more than willing to share whatever I learned and pass it on.”